For the last two years, Thanaruek “Eh” Laoraowirodge has been feeding the people of Bangkok somtum der, a version of green papaya salad that’s native to his hometown of Khon Kaen in the northeastern Isan region of Thailand. “Thai people like to eat this kind of food,” he explains. “We focused on the authenticity of papaya salad. Most papaya salad in Bangkok adjusted to the Bangkok palate.”
Now, he’s opening a second branch of his eatery here in New York City: Somtum Der is slated to debut in the East Village next week.
Laoraowirodge has spent time as a student in NYC, and he believes his concept will play well here. “I tried to bring Isan culture in a contemporary way,” he explains. “I think it will fit people in New York.” The owner says he can find just about every ingredient that goes into his cuisine in Thailand, so he’ll keep the menu largely in tact and as authentic as possible. One exception to that rule? “We can adjust how spicy you like it,” he says. “People here usually like one or two chilies. People in Thailand like four.” But if you want to risk asphyxiating yourself, the kitchen is happy to dial up the heat. The point of taking it down a notch is to highlight the other flavors of Isan cuisine, including sweet, spicy, salty and herbal notes.
Laoraowirodge says the somtum der will be front and center, of course, but the extensive menu will also trek through a number of other dishes from his homeland. And rather than an appetizer-entree-dessert breakdown, plates will be “categorized by the way they’re cooked,” he says. He cites sections of larb (a spicy meat salad made with chicken, pork, or duck), noodles, and soup. That list will pair to a comprehensive drink selection, which includes beers like Singha and Beerlao as well as wine and cocktails made from Thai Rum.
If all goes according to plan, says Laoraowirodge, Somtum Der will open its doors at 85 Avenue A next Wednesday, and it will be open for lunch and dinner daily.